After ending yesterday with a lovely sunset view from our campsite, I wasn't surprised to see an equally-lovely sunrise this morning.
I woke up at 6 a.m. and needed a little more than an hour to pack and leave camp. It probably shouldn't have taken that long. Because we cowboy camped last night, I didn't need to take down and pack my tent.
|Date||Wednesday, April 14, 2021|
|Weather||Gradually increasing cloudiness with temperatures in low-50s to mid-80s; variable winds with gusts up to 20 mph|
|Trail Conditions||Long road walk, some trail sections difficult to navigate|
Although that is an advantage of cowboy camping, I wondered if maybe there was a negative side as well. When I woke up this morning, I had a cough. Most likely, this was caused by sleeping in dusty surroundings.
I wondered if I was getting an allergic reaction like I had while I was on the PCT. The cough and runny nose I had then got so bad I had to go to a walk-in clinic in Tehachapi for treatment. I was given a shot, but it didn't help. The cough didn't go away until I left the desert.
Zigzag and I were the last of our group to leave the campsite.
One of the CDT's distinguishing features is a series of alternate routes that hikers can choose instead of the main route. The alternates became a tradition of the trail when the CDT was first developed. Though it's nearing completion now, most hikers still take one or more alternates on their hike.
It's generally frowned upon to take an alternate route on most long trails, with a few exceptions like at Crater Lake on the PCT.
The CDT has so many alternates and they are so acceptable that it's unlikely one hiker will walk exactly the same distance as the next. Some alternates are actually preferred over the marked or "official" route. The Gila River is one such alternate, and Zigzag and I have already decided we will take that route when we get there next week.
Some alternates are just used for convenience, to shave a few miles, or to pass closer to a town. Right from the start today, Zigzag and I took an alternate like that. So did most of the hikers we camped with last night.
The alternate route we followed was a gravel road, the one Dion drove yesterday when he stopped at the water cache before reaching Crazy Cook. It was a little longer than walking on the trail, but he suggested we take this route because the trail was overgrown with sharp-needle-bearing shrubs. That was reason enough to convince us.
I think Dion also suggested walking the road because he and Andrea always drive this way when they shuttle hikers. It seems they like to check on the hikers they dropped off the day before. That's what they did as we walked by.
When each of them stopped, we told them we were doing well. I have never enjoyed road walking, but I was glad I wasn't getting my legs scratched and scraped.
We later talked to a couple of hikers who chose to take the other route. They confirmed it was a miserable trail to walk.
After walking for nearly two hours, Zigzag and I ran into Bedbug, the hiker I met last night near the water cache. He was stopped in the middle of the trail for a break.
We had a short chat before Zigzag and I continued walking. We knew he would catch up soon.
Bedbug didn't have a shady spot to sit under where he stopped to rest, but that wasn't so necessary this morning. The sky was partly overcast and gradually became more overcast as the morning stretched into the afternoon.
Soon after leaving Bedbug, we were stopped again on the road by another shuttle driver, Jeffrey Sharp. He also helps bicycle riders who are following the Continental Divide bike route.
Jeffrey offered to take our picture before we continued down the road.
We were walking toward the north end of the Big Hatchet Mountains, where we got our best view of Big Hatchet Peak. It impressively stood about 4,000 feet higher than the elevation where we were walking.
Big Hatchet Peak is extremely remote and rarely climbed. At 8,356 feet in elevation, it is the highest mountain in the range. The full range runs north to south for about 12 miles.
When Bedbug caught up to us, we walked together for the next few miles. Eventually, we reached a spot where our alternate route on the road crossed the marked CDT trail, and we rejoined it.
The trail was not always visible. The soil consisted of fine sand, and we often discovered the trail faded to nothing in front of us.
For much of the way, we had to scan the horizon ahead, looking for a metal sign that marked the trail. When we saw one, we would walk toward that. Mostly, we had to make our own route while dodging creosote bushes and cholla cactus.
We arrived at Water Cache Number 2 at 12:45 p.m. Because the next cache was likely to be unreachable today, we decided to cook dinner here as our lunch. This way, we wouldn't have to carry the extra water needed for cooking tonight.
The wind was gusty in this open area of the desert. We set up Bedbug's tarp to block the wind and give us some shade while preparing our meal.
We saw several dust devils whip up while we hunkered under the tarp. These were like mini-tornados.
The vortices of dust devils aren't created by strong winds so much as they are the result of surface heating. They normally don't last for more than a minute or two. They can sometimes get very powerful, however, and have been known to severely damage buildings and other structures.
We stayed at the water cache for 90 minutes. When we were finally prepared to leave, Bedbug said he was done for the day. He wanted to camp tonight there by the cache.
This was near State Highway 81, the first asphalt road we had crossed since we started hiking yesterday. There was no traffic on the road, which goes south to the border at Antelope Wells. That is the least-trafficked crossing of the 43 official ports of entry on the border between Mexico and the U.S.
We continued to follow the trail as best we could, still making our own route where the trail occasionally disappeared.
Engelmann's hedgehog cactus were now another obstacle sometimes in our way. This variety was showy with bright magenta flowers. It is named for physician and botanist George Engelmann (1809-1884).
We also saw a lot of fishhook barrel cactus and made sure to steer clear of their many spines. They are so sharp they can penetrate shoes and clothing.
The larger of these cactus usually lean southward toward the sun. They have a lifespan of 50 to 100 years.
Top O', Thirteen, and Doggone caught up to us at 3:45 p.m. and then passed us. We weren't in as much of a hurry as they appeared to be.
Zigzag and I intended to walk the first week of this hike at an easy, steady pace. We weren't worrying about completing a lot of miles because there was nothing to be gained by that. We didn't want to arrive in Colorado too soon because of the snowpack there.
Still, we were already finding that the miles came easily here in New Mexico. The terrain was mostly flat, and where there was a climb, it was very gradual.
The weather also continued to be in our favor. The slight overcast of clouds kept the temperature moderate, and the wind was to our backs.
The route remained difficult to find, though. We still had to sign-hop until we reached where the trail connected with a dirt road.
Zigzag and I were toting a total of four liters of water. He carried two liters in one hand, which I thought must have been tiring. I attached mine to my pack. I didn't enjoy the extra weight, but at least it was on my back.
The farther we continued this way, the more tiring and gritty the miles felt. Eventually, we caught up to where Top O' and Thirteen had stopped to set up their tents. It would have been possible for us to camp there, though the space was a little tight for four tents.
Zigzag and I thought we had the legs to go a little farther, which would put us closer to the next water source. Then Thirteen said a comment in the Guthook app mentioned another tent site about a mile away, so we decided to head that way.
When we arrived, we found Baguette and Doggone were already there. The space was mostly in a wash, though I sensed that some of the ground might have also been disturbed by man-made activity and not just by water. I was unsure what activity that might have been, but later I discovered on a map we were near the site of Silver Bell Mine. It may have been just a prospecting mine, but lead and silver were reportedly found here.
I located a flat spot in the wash to pitch my tent but found the soil too hard to put in stakes. I had to pile rocks on the guy ropes to hold it down. This made a taut setup impossible, but at least the tent didn't blow over. Being sheltered in the wash helped with that.
This had been a long day, perhaps too long for just Day 2 of my hike. I felt too tired and too out of sorts to be sociable. I also wasn't feeling hungry, but I ate my lunch anyway. I didn't want to carry any weight I didn't need tomorrow.